It was a cold, dark, windy night in Edinburgh when Yes to Fairer Votes met for a planning session last night. Stepping out of my warm flat I worried that I would be the only person to brave the sub-zero tempreture, and feet of snow.
Queue half remembered Simon and Garfunkel.
On a Winter’s Day, in a Deep and Dark December. I am alone. Gazing from my Window to the Streets Below on a Freshly Fallen Shroud of Snow
I need not have worried.
Despite the weather we had more than a dozen people. I’m particularly pleased that we had more new faces around the table than familiar faces and more apologies than attendees.
We gathered in the Hide, the cellar bar of the Argyle, on Argyle Place in Marchmont. Thanks to them for the excellent deal on using their space. I’m glad we were downstairs, the size of the dogs some of the regulars had brought was awesome. I thought I’d stumbled over a polar bear when I first saw them.
We now have activists from most of the parties who polled into six figures at the last general election. Crucially we are missing UKIP and the Conservatives. I’m trying to remedy that today by reaching out the UKIP and Conservative organisations in Scotland. We also have activists who don’t have a particular party affiliation. It really is a campaign embracing all parties and none.
Neil Bibby, the newly appointed Scottish Regional Co-ordinator was on hand to introduce himself and to talk us through the overall campaign strategy. He spoke about the growing network of grassroots activists. Apparantly I am one of 150,000 people who have signed up to support the Yes Campaign and he is one of 17 Regional Co-ordinators. I really get a sense of the campaign coming together.
He also spoke about some of the key messages that voters find appealing about the Alternative Vote; A Vote that Really Counts, Harder Working MP’s and No More Jobs for Life.
We spoke about the things we could do to get our messages across by engaging with voters directly and indirectly, by building out networks and by lobbying decision makers and key influencers. I think we have some good ideas.
We’ve been inspired by colleagues in other cities and by our own inventiveness.
We also had a fruitful conversation about lessons we could learn from the success of the No To ID and the Scottish Devolution campaigns.
With so many passionate people in a room there was bound to be good debate. I was really pleased that we agreed to keep partisan digs to one side. We were still able to discuss the various positions of each party but in a matter of fact kind of a way. There was the odd little niggle and I think I might introduce a beer fine at future meetings for any partisan shin digging.
As a group we quickly agreed to campaign on a positve and cross party basis. We hope to persuade people of the benefits of AV, not just the defects of First Past the Post. We want to explain to voters that AV is better and fairer for them and not talk about party advantage. I think voting systems should be for voters, not political parties and the agreement of everyone round the table was heartening. I’ve come to the right place with the right people.
The one thing we didn’t achieve that I’d hoped to was setting up a more formal steering committee. With so many regulars snow bound and unable to make it I thought it would be undemocratic to set something up without them. So we’ll meet again in a few weeks and finish off last night’s agenda.
After the meeting I felt I’d earned a pint and, fortunately for me, The Argyle has so much beer they are selling it!
Chairing a meeting with lots of new faces and passionate voices has its challenges. It’s difficult to make sure everyone gets their say and no one is censored whilst at the same time keeping business flowing smoothly and not letting one person dominate the meeting. I was pretty tired by the end of it and glad of the friendly pint I was bought.
I was also hugely energised. Our cause is just and our supporters legion and the beer is tasty.
One of the things I’m enjoying most about the campaign is meeting people from different political persuastions. There is a wide variety of interesting people gathering round the Yes Campaign. I like finding out what is important to them and why. Politics is often about different priorities and different methods of achieving outcomes. It’s rare to meet someone who is an evil lunatic or even merely selfish and it’s refreshing to be remined that most activists from whatever Party want what is best for our country, we just have different definitions of best. It’s fascinating to see how people engage in political discussion when they are able to step outside of tribal Party constraints.
I genuinely hope and belive that the Alternative Vote will go some way to breaking down the Yah Boo politics we enjoy in our country and help us move to a more considered, quieter, but more productive way of running our democracy and making decisions amougst ourselves.
I’m excited by the campaign and really, really glad to be part of it.
When I emerged from the cellar bar I found the sky clear, the moon aglow, the wind still and a gentle snow bound hush decended on the beautiful streets of Edinburgh. Is this a metaphor too far? Perhaps, but after a vibrant Yes meeting I think I’m allowed to feel a little optimistic.